Water Infrastructure Legislation Passes U.S. House With Key Louisiana Priorities Included

Published 7:02 am Thursday, June 9, 2022

WASHINGTON, DC – With strong backing by U.S. Congressman Garret Graves, important hurdles were cleared today approving the construction of major flood control, ports, inland waterways, hurricane protection, coastal restoration and other infrastructure improvements in Louisiana. Graves was a co-author of the bipartisan water infrastructure legislation, the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (WRDA), that passed the U.S. House.

Since he came to Congress in 2015, Graves has played a major role in negotiations that authorize the construction of water infrastructure projects – improving flood protection, restoring our coast and bolstering our ports. The bill addresses stormwater improvements throughout south Louisiana parishes and cuts Army Corps’ red tape to streamline project delivery.

The bill also cements the importance of Louisiana’s position in our national economic environment by focusing U.S. water policy on the needs of the Mississippi River System, which is critical to the country’s economic leadership. Louisiana alone represents 30 percent of the total U.S. portfolio of water infrastructure and management projects in the United States – and one of the most important water ecosystems and port supercomplexes in the world.

Graves, as a member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has battled the federal bureaucracy to break the logjam on priority infrastructure projects that have been stuck for decades. Nearly two dozen provisions in the legislation are a direct result of lessons learned from Graves’ conversations with local, state and federal officials after Hurricanes Ida, Katrina, Gustav, Ike, and Isaac, the August 2016 Flood, and other previous floods and disasters.

“WRDA’s passage today puts us closer to better hurricane and flood protection for south Louisiana. Spending millions investing in our resiliency before a storm rather than after is the answer, not complacency with the status quo. We will keep clearing logjams to turn dirt on projects instead of more time spent picking up debris or rebuilding our communities. We’ve spent years showing other members of Congress why Louisiana is worth protecting – and this milestone is reflective of our bipartisan efforts. We’re looking forward to seeing this infrastructure legislation get signed into law later this year so we can save taxpayer funds by making smart investments,” Graves said.

 Graves authored several provisions which were included in the legislation:

  • Upper Barataria Project: Authorization of a $1.5 billion project for hurricane and flood protection improvements, helping to protect the Upper Barataria Basin parishes of Lafourche, St. Charles, St. John, Assumption, St. James, Jefferson, and Ascension.  Final approval of this project, expected later this year, will immediately send $8 million to begin pre-construction engineering and design. (Section 401)
  • Comprehensive Lower Mississippi Study: Advances the effort to improve the operation of the river, including flood protection, port performance, seafood production and the restoration of our coast. The current management regime, including the rigid 70/30 split at the Old River Control Structure, is antiquated and based upon outdated science. This provision will result in the release of $5,000,000 in funding Graves previously secured to begin the landmark study. (Section 323)
  • Louisiana Hurricane Protection and Levee Improvements: $1.9 billion in projects authorized in St. Charles, Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish – working in partnership with Reps. Scalise and Carter. (Section 401)
  • Restoration of MRGO: Provision confirms that the project was intended to fully be the responsibility of the federal government. (Sec. 133)
  • Comite Diversion: Requires the Army Corps to regularly report to Congress on the completion of the Comite project, which is now years behind schedule and over budget.

 

Authorizes new investments to improve water and wastewater systems through the Corps Environmental Infrastructure Program (Section 345):

  • Capital Region (East Baton Rouge, Ascension, and Livingston Parishes): Increases authorized funding to $90 million.
  • Bayou Parishes (Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Charles, Assumption, St. James, St. John, and St. Mary Parishes): Increases the project authorization by $10 million.
  • River Parishes (St. John, St. James, and Assumption Parishes): Increases authorized funding to $36 million.

 

Policy Improvements:

  • Post-Katrina Loan Payments: Extends the deadline to repay loans stemming from post-Katrina flood protection projects, ensuring the state will be financially able to continue historic investments in new protection projects. (Section 345)
  • Prioritization of Dredged Material: Requires the Corps to prioritize coastal restoration when dredging sediment from our navigation channels in our coastal area. (Section 124)
  • Accuracy in Economic Value of Our Ports: Improves the accuracy of data on the commercial value of ports, concentrating on the value of commercial fishing and aquaculture harvest. (Section 235)
  • Online Permit Filing: Amendment which requires the Corps to join the 21st century and create an online portal to file, update, and track permit applications. (Section 232)
  • Building Back Stronger: Provision which will allow the Corps to build flood protection projects back to higher, stronger standards rather than allowing repetitive flood damages. This provision came directly from repeated damages to Grand Isle during the 2020 and 2021 hurricane seasons (Section 102)..
  • Coordination between FEMA and the Corps: improves information sharing on the National Levee Database (NLD). As flood protection projects are finished, it is critical that they are added to the NLD as soon as possible to ensure that flood insurance policy holders see their premiums go down, especially with the rising rates under the harmful Risk Rating 2.0 policy. (Section 236)
  • No Adverse Impacts from Levee Modifications: Amendment to ensure that potential modifications to levee systems will increase flood resiliency, reduced flood risk, and benefit individuals living behind the levee system in flood zones. (Section 114)
  • Ensuring Appropriate Land Acquisition: Provision will require the Corps to require the lowest type of land acquisition to support Corps projects — decreasing costs and speeding up the completion of critical projects. (Section 230)
  • Extension of Credit Transfer Authority: Extends the ability of the state to transfer the value of extra work it’s done on Corps projects to fulfill cost shares owed on other Corps projects. (Section343 )
  • Corps Responsibility of Levee Subsidence: Ensures the Corps continues to meet expectations to rehabilitate existing levees in Louisiana to ensure they offer the maximum flood protection.  (Section 343)
  • Aquifer Working Group: Graves amendment includes farmers and agricultural lands in efforts to help with aquifer recharge efforts to ensure irrigation and sustainability of our farms and water sources. Graves secured this amendment with the help of Rep. Julia Letlow (LA-05) (Section 112)